29 Unusual Things to Do in Rome to Escape the Crowds

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Rome’s Colosseum, Sistine Chapel and Pantheon are all extraordinary creations, but there’s more to Rome than the tourist attractions. If you only visit the major sites, you’ll spend more time fighting through tour groups than enjoying the atmosphere of the city.

Luckily there’s so much incredible art and history in Rome that it’s easy to escape the crowds by getting off the beaten path and visiting less well-known attractions.

Below I share our favourite unusual things to do in Rome divided by area so you can plan your time efficiently. In each section I have included our favourite places to eat and suggested places to stay in the neighborhood. For those of you who prefer to explore with a guide, I have included suggested tours where relevant. You’ll also find a map at the bottom of the post.

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Our Top Picks

If you have limited time, here are our top picks for unique things to do in Rome:

  • Outdoors: Appian Way
  • Art Gallery: Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
  • Roman Ruin: Baths of Caracalla (with VR headset)
  • Church: Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

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Historic Centre

The Centro Storico or historic centre is the heart of Rome and where you’ll find many of the famous piazzas, fountains, and churches. The popular sights get very busy but avoiding the tour groups is possible.

1) Early Morning Walk

An empty Piazza Navona in Rome on a Sunday morning

An empty Piazza Navona on a Sunday morning

My number one tip to escape the crowds in Rome is to get up early. The historic centre is stunning and you won’t want to miss it, but the crowds and traffic can be stressful. At 7 am though, especially on a Sunday, you’ll have it almost to yourself and can really enjoy the beauty.

Start with the Trevi Fountain as it’s the most crowded spot. There were already 50 people at the famous fountain when we arrived at 7.15am, but there was space to sit and take selfies whereas later in the day it is swarming with hundreds of people.

Erin and Simon at the Trevi Fountain, Rome

It’s much easier to get a selfie at the Trevi Fountain if you go early!

Continue your walk past the Pantheon (it doesn’t open until 9 am on Sundays) to my favourite square, Piazza Navona, where you can admire the gorgeous fountains without anyone else around.

From here wander to the market square of Campo de Fiori and head down a side street just off it to seek out Arco degli Acetari, a hidden courtyard of picturesque houses. If you are feeling hungry by now, walk down Via dei Giubbonari, past the cute little piazza Largo dei Librari, to Via dei Chiavari where you can buy freshly baked pizza bianca from Antico Forno Roscioli (it opens at 8.30am on Sundays, 7 am on weekdays).

By now Rome’s museums and attractions will be opening so you can visit one of those or continue to wander.

2) Teatro Marcello

Teatro Marcello, Rome

Teatro Marcello isn’t on most people’s must-visit lists, which makes it all the more surprising when you stumble upon it as we did. The beauty of Rome is that incredible ruins are everywhere—you’ll find ancient history at every turn.

First time visitors may mistake Teatro Marcello for the Colosseum. It was originally a 20,000-seat Roman amphitheater completed in 12 BC, but in the 16th century a palazzo, which now contains exclusive apartments, was built on top. It’s interesting to see the layers of history. It’s never very busy and you can walk through the crumbling blocks and columns next to it for free. There are also summer concerts here. 

This Off the Beaten Path Walking Tour in Rome includes Teatro Marcello as well as some of the places below (Baths of Caracalla, Appian Way, Janiculum Hill). 

3) Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

The Sounds and Visions of Caravaggio tour is one of the most unique things to do in Rome. This music and art tour takes place in Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a grand private family palace dating back to the 1600s when a member of the family, Innocent X, was pope.

The magnificent rooms are covered in paintings as they were back then and the ceilings are decorated with frescoes. The collection includes paintings by master artists such as Caravaggio, Caracci, and Velaquez, as well as a Bernini statue of Pope Innocent. The extravagant Gallery of the Mirrors is similar to the one at Versailles. It’s well worth visiting the museum, and their audio guide is supposed to be excellent.

If you are in Rome on a Saturday, try to get a place on the Caravaggio tour, which is one of the best tours we’ve ever done (and we’re not usually tour fans). An art historian took us around the palace telling us about the family and the story behind some of the paintings. Discussions of art were interspersed with music performances by an incredible soprano and a guitarist playing a Baroque Spanish guitar from the era.

It was magical to hear them perform in rooms such as the ballroom where the Pamphilj family’s guests would have danced to similar music hundreds of years ago. The music broke up the explanations so we were never overwhelmed with information. The tour ended with a short concert in the Jupiter room, which is usually closed to the public, and afterwards, we could explore the gallery on our own.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is at Via del Corso, 305. Entrance is €12 including audio guide. It’s open every day from 9 am to 7 pm.

The Sounds and Visions of Caravaggio music tour takes place at 11 am on Saturdays and lasts an hour. Advance booking is essential—you can book directly with Roma Opera Omnia for €35, but you have to email them for availability and pay by PayPal. Or you can book with Get Your Guide online for €38. 

4) Palazzo Barberini

Do you want one of Caravaggio’s best works to yourself? Go to Palazzo Barberini at 9 am. It’s one of Rome’s best secrets.

This huge palace is home to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica which includes artwork by Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini, Filippo Lippi, Piero di Cosimo and many more. For some reason this gallery is overlooked and we had it completely to ourselves.

The ground floor houses older art from the 1200s-1400s. We preferred the first floor (the piano nobile where the family would have lived) with its stunning frescos and Renaissance and Baroque paintings. The highlight is undoubtedly Caravaggio’s mesmerising Judith Beheading Holofernes—we couldn’t believe there was no one else around.

The first floor had recently been renovated and until October 2018 includes a modern art exhibition from MAXXI where portraits and self-portraits are displayed alongside the classical art. There’s also a strange and haunting arthouse film featuring Natalie Portman. The second floor was closed on our visit, but we had more than enough to see without it.

Other highlights of the palace are the grand staircases designed by Bernini and Borromini and the secret garden behind the building (which you don’t need a ticket for).

Palazzo Barberini is at Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13. Combined entrance with Palazzo Corsini in Trastevere is €12 (valid for 10 days) or it’s free on the first Sunday of the month. It’s open every day except Mondays from 8.30am to 7 pm.

5) Galleria Sciarra

Galleria Sciarra, one of the best Rome off the beaten path attractions

We stumbled upon this hidden Art Nouveau courtyard on our way to the Trevi Fountain, which shows that it’s possible to get off the beaten path in Rome without straying far from the top attractions.

Galleria Sciarra was built in the late 19th century for the wealthy Sciarra family and was originally due to be a shopping mall but instead became the headquarters of their magazine. It now houses offices and it’s well wandering through to admire the vaulted glass ceiling and colourful frescoes celebrating women in different fashions.

Galleria Sciarra is at Via Santa Maria in Via, 30–31 and is open from 10 am to 8 pm. Closed Mondays.

6) Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini

There are plenty of Roman ruins to visit in the city but what makes Le Domus Romane unique is its use of multimedia technology. Access is by tour only which takes place on a glass floor above the ruins of two Roman villas from the 1st–4th centuries AD. The building above, Palazzo Valentini, is a 15th century Renaissance villa which was built on top.

These would have been very grand private residences, and the tour includes the hot and cold baths and some beautiful mosaics. Light, music, visuals, and audio are used to explain what you are seeing and show what the houses would have looked like in Roman times. Although the technology feels slightly dated, it does help bring the ruins to life.

The tour ends with a (rather long) video that explains the bas-reliefs on Trajan’s column, which stands outside, and how they tell the story of Emperor Trajan’s defeat of Dacia (Romania).

Le Domus Romane is at via Foro Traiano 85. 1.5 hour tours cost €13.50 and advance booking is recommended. It’s open every day except Tuesdays from 9.30am to 6.30pm. No photos allowed. 

7) Eitch Borromini Rooftop Bar

View of Piazza Navona from the Eitch Borromini rooftop terrace bar

While you won’t have this rooftop bar to yourself, numbers are limited (you must book a table) and it’s not somewhere most visitors know about. The Eitch Borromini is a luxury hotel overlooking Piazza Navona and the terrace bar has stunning 360º views of the city including St Peter’s, the Pantheon, and Piazza Venezia. It would be especially lovely at sunset although it was cloudy on the day we visited.

Drinks are expensive (€15 for a glass of prosecco or wine, €25 for cocktails), but the views are so special that it’s worth it.

Eitch Borromini is at Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima, 30. The rooftop bar is open every day from 6.30pm—reservations are essential by calling +39 06 68215459 (I tried emailing and got no response). 

8) Capuchin Crypt

We have mixed feelings about the Capuchin Crypt. It’s certainly one of the most unusual things to do in Rome, but it’s also very disturbing.

The crypt lies beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione which was once the home of Capuchin friars. When they moved here they brought the remains of the deceased friars with them, but rather than simply burying them, they decorated a series of tiny chapels with the bones.

The chapels contain the skeletons of small friars in robes with thousands of bones arranged around them in arches and decorative details. They are divided by body part—skulls, pelvises, and shoulder blades all collected together. Even the light fixtures above us in the corridor were made from bones.

We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s not like Otranto’s Cathedral where bones are displayed in remembrance of the Christian martyrs who died resisting the Turks. At the Capuchin Crypt the remains have been used to create art out of death—it’s almost beautiful if you don’t think about what it’s made from. But we couldn’t help asking ourselves—what kind of people joyfully played with bones to create this place?

Our issue is with the presentation of the museum—it’s treated as a holy place with religious music playing and photos and talking banned. But to us it seemed anti-religious and thought they should acknowledge how disturbing the place is. Instead, the Catholic order insists it’s a reminder of our mortality.

The small museum before the chapels features a Caravaggio painting of St Francis in Meditation, but we’d just seen the original at Palazzo Barberini—this is a very good copy.

Should you visit? That’s up to you—it is a unique and macabre place, but I don’t recommend it for anyone of a sensitive disposition.

The Capuchin Museum and Crypt is at Via Vittorio Veneto, 27. Entrance costs €8.50. It’s open every day from 9 am to 7 pm. If you’d like a guide, this tour of the crypt and church gets good reviews. No photos allowed. 

9) Galleria Spada

Forced perspective gallery by Francesco Borromini at Galleria Spada in Rome

We were the only visitors in this small art gallery of 16th and 17th century art in a Renaissance palace. The most interesting part is the forced perspective gallery by Francesco Borromini in the courtyard. The gallery of arches is only nine meters long but an optical illusion makes it look much longer and the sculpture at the end larger. It’s not a must-see but it’s worth stopping by on the first Sunday of the month when it’s free.

Galleria Spada is at Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13. Entrance is €5 (free on the first Sunday of the month). It’s open every day except Tuesdays from 8.30am to 7.30pm. 

Where to Eat in the Historic Centre

For a Quick Snack

Don’t miss Antico Forno Roscioli for the best pizza bianca in the city—fresh out of the oven and sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary it’s absolutely delicious. The suppli (rice balls) at Supplizio are another typical Roman snack.

For a Full Meal

The absolute best place we’ve eaten in the centre is Armando Al Pantheon. It’s remarkable that a restaurant so close to a major attraction has managed to maintain its quality since the 1960s.

Everything we ate there was delicious including the melanzana alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan) to start, the spaghetti cacio e pepe (a lighter version than the ones we ate in Testaccio), and the spaghetti verde with rocket, pecorino and lemon—so simple but so good. You need to book a few weeks in advance.

If you didn’t manage to get a reservation at Armando, L’Orso 80 is touristy, but it’s a good option if you are craving vegetables. Their 15-dish antipasti plate of grilled vegetables and beans costs €15 and was enough for us to share for lunch (it does usually include one meat dish so ask for it without if you’re vegetarian). If you are very hungry, order the 2-person antipasti and watch your table fill with bowls of vegetables, beans, cheese, and prosciutto.

For a Coffee and Break

Avoid the touristy cafes near Piazza Navona and instead head to Barnum Cafe, a rather hipster cafe with vintage furniture and comfy couches (and you’re not charged extra to sit down!). The coffee and fresh juices are excellent, and I’ve heard good things about the cocktails and food.

For something more classically Roman, the Chiostro del Bramante is a cafe above an art museum with balcony seating looking down on lovely fresco-covered cloisters. It’s a peaceful retreat from the tourist chaos nearby. Inside the lounge, there’s a window with a view of a Raphael fresco in the church next door (sadly we missed this).

For Gelato

Avoid the awful touristy places (you don’t want unnaturally bright colours or puffy gelato spilling over the tub) and seek out real gelato made with natural ingredients. My favourite is Fatamorgana, but Gelateria del Teatro and Gelateria dei Gracchi are also excellent.

Where to Stay in the Historic Centre

We usually stay in the neighbourhoods of Trastevere (closer to the centre) or Testaccio (further away but less touristy), but on a short visit, you’ll be close to everything if you stay in the historic centre.

On our next trip, we plan to treat ourselves to a stay in the 5-star Grand Hotel de la Minerve in a 17th-century mansion with views of the Pantheon and a rooftop terrace. Check prices here

Another luxurious option is Eitch Borromini on Piazza Navona which has elegant rooms and an amazing rooftop terrace with 360º views. Check prices

More affordable options in the centre with excellent reviews include Maison Giulia, Campo de Fiori Prestige Rooms, and Colonna Suite Del Corso.

Search for more hotels and B&Bs in Rome’s historic centre here.

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Colosseum Area

The Colosseum is a 20 minute walk from the centre of Rome and the area gets very crowded with visitors to the famous Roman amphitheatre. There are a few other Roman ruins nearby that most people don’t know about.

10) Baths of Caracalla

Simon with a VR headset at the Caracalla Baths in Rome

The Baths of Caracalla were only the second largest public baths in Rome, a fact that astonished us as they are absolutely huge. They were inaugurated in 216 AD by the Emperor Caracalla and became the most spectacular thermal complex in ancient times. The site includes hot and cold baths, gym, library, cafes, and an Olympic size swimming pool where people lounged at the edges and played games (you can still see the notches in the stone).

The gardens are also a lovely place for a stroll or a picnic on the grass. In the summer, concerts take place here.

What we loved most about these ruins is the use of Virtual Reality. You have to pay extra for a VR headset, but it’s well worth it as you can see what the buildings and pools would have looked like in Roman times and appreciate the scale and grandeur of this luxurious complex.

The Baths are free on the first Sunday of the month, but they are much busier then so either arrive at 9 am or visit on a quieter day. We arrived at 10 am and they had already sold out of VR headsets (reserving them in advance is a good idea). After looking around for an hour we managed to get one.

You could combine a visit to the Baths with the Appian Way (see below) which is 15 minutes away on Bus 118 or take this Rome Off The Beaten Path Walking Tour which includes both. 

The Baths of Caracalla are at Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 52. Entry is €8 and VR headsets cost €7 (we shared one). It’s free on the first Sunday of the month. You can reserve VR headsets (4D guides) in advance on the Coop website (€2 extra booking fee). It’s open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9 am to 6.30pm and Mondays from 9 am to 2 pm.

11) Domus Aurea (Golden House)

The octagonal room at the Domus Aurea or Golden House in Rome

The Domus Aurea or Golden House was an immense villa complex of 80 hectares built by Emperor Nero after the great fire of 64 AD which destroyed most of the city.

The ruins only opened to visitors in the last few years and as it’s still a working archaeological site it feels more adventurous than a typical ruin visit—you even have to wear a hard hat.

It’s still very much a work in progress as the ruins of this once grand villa now lie underground. Emperor Trajan used it as a foundation for his public baths, sealing windows and doors and filling some spaces with dirt.

Entrance is by group tour only. Tours are led by an archaeologist and use video and virtual reality to show what the villa would have looked like with its decorative walls and beautiful views of the countryside.

Most of the art was removed when Trajan built on it, but you can see some small sections of mosaics. The frescoed walls are well preserved (Renaissance artists clambered down here for inspiration), but they are covered in dirt and won’t be cleaned until the leaking roof has been fixed—it will be splendid once the work is complete.

One of the most impressive spaces is a large octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling to let in light—it predated the Pantheon and was used as a private art gallery.

The entrance to Domus Aurea is on Via della Domus Aurea (marked as Biglietteria Domus Aurea on Google Maps). Tours only take places on weekends, last 1.5 hours, and cost €16 including booking fee—advance booking on the Coop website is essential. This tour combines the Domus Aurea with the Colosseum. It’s cold inside so take an extra layer.

Where to Eat Near the Colosseum

Instead of eating in this touristy area, I recommend heading to the nearby neighbourhood of Monti, only a 10-minute walk from Domus Aurea. There are plenty of places to eat in the area—we liked La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali.

Where to Stay Near the Colosseum

I wouldn’t stay in this area as it’s always so crowded. If you do want to, the Colosseum Palace Star has views of the Colosseum from its spacious rooms and gets fantastic reviews. 

Another option is to stay in the nearby Monti neighborhood—Soggiorno Downtown is excellent value and only a 5-minute walk from the Colosseum. 

Search for more hotels near the Colosseum here

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Aventine Hill

Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills Rome was built upon. It’s a quiet, leafy residential neighborhood with some worthwhile free attractions. It’s situated between the Testaccio neighborhood and the Circus Maximus (and Colosseum beyond).

12) Aventine Keyhole

Aventine Keyhole view of St Peter's on the Aventine Hill in Rome

Photo by Ivan Kurmyshov/Adobe Stock because this is a really difficult photo to take!

This is one of Rome’s oddest attractions. A small keyhole in a nondescript door of the Knights of Malta property reveals a perfectly framed view of St Peter’s Basilica through a shrubbery tunnel. There can be a queue, so it’s best to get here early.

Aventine Keyhole is at Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta.

13) Orange Garden

View from Orange Garden on Aventine Hill, Rome

A little further on from the Keyhole is the Giardino degli Aranci or Orange Garden, a small, peaceful park with stunning views over Rome.

14) Rose Garden

Rome's rose garden

Continue on to the Roseto Comunale or Rose Garden, another tranquil retreat from the city with a beautiful display of roses and city views. It’s close to the Circus Maximus.

The Roseto Comunale is at Via di Valle Murcia, 6. It’s only open from late April until mid-June, usually from 8.30am to 7.30pm.

Where to Eat and Stay in Aventine Hill

Aventine Hill is a quiet place to base yourself in Rome and you get more for your money here. Good hotels in the area include Hotel Villa San Pio in a garden setting and the elegant Hotel San Anselmo.

There aren’t many restaurants in this residential area so head down the hill to Testaccio.

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Testaccio

Testaccio is our favourite neighbourhood in Rome, and we recently spent a month there. It’s not the prettiest part of the city, but it’s great for escaping the crowds and has local charm, fantastic food, and some quirky sights.

See our Testaccio neighborhood guide for more details including where to eat and stay.

15) Taste of Testaccio Food Tour

Eating Italy’s Taste of Testaccio food tour is the best way to learn about the Testaccio neighborhood and its history, all while eating delicious food from many different stops. Read our Testaccio food tour review for more details.

16) Testaccio Market

Testaccio Market is one of my favourite markets in the world with fantastic fresh produce stalls as well as lunch options ranging from pasta to sushi.

Testaccio Market is at the corner of Via Beniamino Franklin and Via Aldo Manuzio. It’s open 7 am to 2 pm Monday to Saturday (closed Sundays).  

17) Pyramid of Cestius

Testaccio Pyramid of Cestius in Rome, Italy from the non-Catholic cemetery

One of Testaccio’s most surprising sights is a pyramid that was built in 12 BC as a burial tomb for the Roman praetor, Caius Cestius. If you are very keen you can visit inside on weekends, but otherwise the best views are from the Non-Catholic Cemetery.

The pyramid is at Via Raffaele Persichetti. Tours inside the Pyramid are in Italian and only run on weekends at 11 am. They cost €5.50 and you must book in advance by phone—see the Coop website for details. 

18) Non-Catholic Cemetery

Keats, Shelley and Gregory Corso are among the famous people who were buried at this cemetery for non-Catholics. It’s a peaceful, garden-like place for a stroll.

The Non-Catholic Cemetery is on Via Caio Cestio, 6. Entrance is by donation (€3 is suggested). It’s open 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday and 9 am to 1 pm on Sundays. 

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Ostiense

Ostiense is a gritty neighborhood south of Testaccio with a few interesting sights.

19) Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls

Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome

St Pauls is one of the four great basilicas of Rome and it is immense. When the Apostle Paul was executed here in the 1st century AD his followers erected a small shrine, which became a church a few centuries later. Over the centuries the church grew in size and splendour.

You enter through the striking atrium of columns with a view of the Basilica’s facade of golden mosaics. Inside the massive space are more marble columns and gold mosaics, as well as the remains of St Paul near the altar. It’s a stunning church and far less crowded that St Peters.

Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls is at Piazzale San Paolo, 1. Entrance to the church is free (€4 for the cloister and museum). It’s open every day from 7 am to 6.30pm (cloister from 9 am to 6 pm).

20) Centrale Montemartini

A 15-minute walk from St Paul Outside the Walls is this unique art gallery that’s part of the Capitoline Museums. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures are displayed alongside giant diesel engines and steam turbines in a former power station from the early 1900s. It was almost empty when we visited which only adds to the appeal of this hidden gem.

There’s also a display of some beautiful mosaics, the railway carriages of Pope Pius IX, and until 31 October 2018, a special exhibition about the Etruscans and Egyptians.

Centrale Montemartini is at Via Ostiense, 106. Entrance is €11 (including the special exhibition). It’s open from 9 am to 7 pm every day except for Mondays.

21) Ostiense Street Art

Ostiense street art in Rome- a great way to get off the beaten track

There’s some fantastic large-scale street art in Ostiense. To find the best spots you can take a tour on foot or by e-bike or use this map for a self-guided walk.

Where to Eat and Stay in Ostiense

Pizzeria Ostiense is our favourite pizzeria in Rome, and it’s conveniently located down the street from one of our favourite gelaterias, Gelateria La Romana.

The pizzeria is only open in the evening so during the day head to the massive Eataly complex for four floors of air-conditioned food shopping and restaurants. It’s opposite the Ostiense train station.

I think Ostiense is a little far out to stay here, but it could be a good option if you are on a budget. Search for options on Airbnb or Booking

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Trastevere and Monteverde

Trastevere is one of the prettiest neighbourhoods in Rome and it’s just over the river from the historic centre. In the evenings it can be crowded with tourists and locals strolling the cobbled streets and visiting restaurants and bars, but there are a few attractions to visit during the day that are usually quiet.

See our detailed Trastevere guide for more things to do and places to stay and eat.

22) Villa Farnesina

This grand Renaissance villa built in 1506 features ceilings covered in beautiful Raphael frescoes. I can’t understand how it’s not busier.

Villa Farnesina is at Via della Lungara, 230. Entrance is €6. It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm and every second Sunday of the month from 9 am to 5 pm.

23) Orto Botanico

Medicinal garden at Orto Botanico in Trasvtevere, Rome

These botanical gardens are a peaceful retreat from the city and feature Japanese, herbal, and medicinal gardens as well as a lovely city view from the top of the hill.

Orto Botanico is at Largo Cristina di Svezia, 24. Entrance is €8. It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6.30pm. Closed Sundays.

24) Janiculum Hill

View of Rome from Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo) in Trastevere

For the best view of Rome head up Janiculum Hill for sunset. It’s absolutely stunning and more of a local hangout than a tourist attraction.

The Janiculum Terrace is at Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi.

25) Villa Doria Pamphili

Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome

I felt like I was in the countryside as I lay in a meadow of long grass and looked up at the umbrella pines in this large park on a hill in the Monteverde neighbourhood. It’s huge, peaceful, and the perfect escape from the crowds for a walk or picnic.

The Litro natural wine bar nearby is a great place for lunch or aperitivo.

Villa Doria Pamphili is off Via di S. Pancrazio. It’s open every day from 7 am until sunset.

Other Areas of Rome

26) Appian Way

Appian Way in Rome

The Appian Way is one of the oldest and most important Roman roads and stretches all the way to Brindisi—some sections still have the original Roman cobblestones. It’s a lovely escape from the city, especially on Sundays when the road is closed to traffic.

The information centre is the obvious starting point—the bus stops here and you can also rent bikes. The first section of the path has many sights including three catacomb complexes (see below), churches, and the ruins of the Roman Villa di Massenzio (free entry) with its chariot race track.

After visiting the Domitilla Catacombs and Villa di Massenzio, we continued down the Appian Way and soon reached a quieter section of the road which feels like the countryside with meadows of long grass, fields of sheep with jangling bells, and tall cypress and umbrella pine trees lining the cobbled street.

We chose to cycle the Appian Way, which is a popular way to explore this very long road, but honestly we wished we had just walked. We don’t cycle often and found the bumpy cobblestones uncomfortable. The original sections feature massive stone slabs with deep cracks between them that were impossible to cycle over (although some professional-looking mountain bikers managed it). Most people like us got off and walked, or cycled along the narrow dirt verge on the side of the road.

We made it about 7km down the road from the info centre (plus a slight detour to Domitilla) before turning back. There are a number of restaurants and cafes in the first section of the Appian Way. We had lunch at Hostaria Antica Roma, a large and rather upmarket restaurant with extensive gardens. The menu of the day wasn’t long but they were able to cater for us vegetarians and we enjoyed our vegetarian antipasti and pasta. If you eat meat, they specialize in recipes that have been around since Roman times.

For a more casual lunch, Il Giardino di Giulia e Fratelli next door has a lovely garden setting and does sandwiches as well as main dishes.

Bike rental: You can rent bikes (€15 a day, from 9.30am) from the Centro Servizio Appia Antica at the start of the Appian Way Park and also buy maps for €1.50 (although we found Google Maps sufficient). As we were staying in Testaccio, we rented bikes from friendly Biga Bike by Ostiense Station (€14 a day) and cycled to the info centre from there in about 15 minutes.

Tours: Catacombs and Appian Way 3-Hour Tour or Appian Way, Aqueducts & Catacombs Full Day Bike Tour.

Bus: Bus 118 runs from the Circus Maximus to the Appian Way.

27) Domitilla Catacombs

The most visited catacombs on the Appian Way are the Catacombs of San Callisto, but we decided to visit the Domitilla Catacombs instead, which are slightly off the Appian Way. Entrance is by guided tour only as it’s possible to get lost in this 8 mile (12 km) network of narrow passageways with 27,000 tombs carved into the soft tufa rock.

Early Christians used the catacombs to bury their dead as there wasn’t enough space above ground. The first tomb was created in 200 AD.

It was fascinating to explore this underground city of the dead. Bodies were placed directly in the tombs which were sealed with clay, although many were later opened by tomb raiders. There are no bones here as most were stolen, and any remaining have been moved to another part of the catacombs to protect them.

The Domitilla Catacombs are at Via delle Sette Chiese, 282. 30 minute tours are €8. It’s open every day except Tuesdays from 9 am to 12 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm. No photos allowed. 

28) Quartiere Coppede

Quartiere Coppede in Rome

After a stroll through Borghese Park in the northern part of Rome, we took a detour to the Quartiere Coppede, a surprising area of flamboyant architecture in a residential neighborhood. There were no other tourists around as we admired the Art Nouveau buildings with intricate carved details. There are also elements of Greek, Baroque, Medieval and Gothic design.

The centre point is Piazza Mincio with its whimsical frog fountain and you can wander the quiet streets from there. You can also take this Art Nouveau Rome Private Tour.

Afterwards we had lunch at the Ops! vegan buffet, a 15-minute walk away on the way back to the centre. It’s pretty tasty and worth visiting if you are vegan or craving vegetables.

29) EUR

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in EUR, Rome

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) is a residential and business area in southern Rome that’s very much off the beaten path and different from the rest of the city.

It was chosen in the 1930s as the site of the 1943 World Fair where Mussolini planned to celebrate 20 years of Fascism. The Fair never happened because of WW2, but in the 1950s and 1960s the building work was completed and it became an out of town business district.

It’s a pleasant leafy area with a small lake and some imposing Fascist architecture like the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. It’s not a high priority in Rome, but it’s worth a visit if you are interested in modern architecture or, like us, need to go to the Apple store at the Euroma 2 mall.

You can take the metro B to EUR Palasport or EUR Fermi (near the lake) or EUR Magliana (for Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana).

Map of Unusual Things to Do in Rome

Rome Books to Read

These are my favourite books about Rome:

  • Lonely Planet Rome – Very detailed with lots of information on less visited areas as well as history and cultural background. 
  • Knopf Mapguides Rome – Ideal for a short visit to Rome, this concise book focuses on maps with useful tips and restaurant recommendations for the main areas. 
  • Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchelli – If you are interested in food, read this book by a local blogger before you visit. It features handy hints on Italian food etiquette, restaurant and shop recommendations, personal anecdotes and a guide to Roman dishes (with some recipes). 
  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard – An epic book tracking the rise of Rome from a backwater village to imperial city controlling much of the world.
  • Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr – The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s memoir of his year spent living in Rome with his wife and baby twins. 
  • Midnight in the Piazza by Tiffany Parks – This is a young adult novel about a 13-year-old American girl who moves to Rome and uncovers a mystery in the piazza outside her window. It’s a light, fun, easy read that features real places in Rome. 

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Rome Blog Posts to Read

Our other Rome blog posts should help you plan your trip:

I hope this epic post will help you get off the beaten track in Rome! Let me know if you have any more suggestions!

If you enjoyed this post, pin it for later!

Rome is one of the most popular cities in the world for travel. It seems almost impossible to escape the crowds, especially in the summer. BUT! We know how. Here are 29 unusual things to do in Rome to escape the crowds no matter the season! #rome #rometravel #italy #italytravel #beautifulitaly #thingstodoinrome #europe #europetravel

Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.

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